MGAC Impacts: Mark Anderson on Conscious Capitalism, Making Millionaires, and Waking Up at 4:15AM
The Impact Blog is a spotlight series that highlights and celebrates the diverse employees that make MGAC tick. Beyond their day-to-day schedules, we want to know how they have a greater impact on their colleagues, their company, and the communities in which they live and work. We want to know what makes them get out of bed in the morning, what led them to their current role, and what they hope their lasting impact will be.
Today, we get to know Mark Anderson, Founder and President of MGAC.
MGAC: You’re the first person in our Impact blog series! That’s exciting. Let’s start by getting a brief background on how your career got started, and what led you to found MGAC.
Mark Anderson: Wow, that’s a long story. I worked summers when I was in college—in Washington, in construction—and DC was a union town back then, so for someone right out of high school, trying to make money for college, construction was a great place to be.
MGAC: That makes sense.
MA: So I was a physics major in school, and when I was a junior, I started thinking about what I was going to do post-graduation. I looked at going into particle physics… but then I started thinking about how I really enjoyed the spectrum of people and projects that I had experienced in the construction world, so I did informational interviews with alumni of my college who were in the construction industry. And that led me to joining a large general contractor here in Washington, DC when I graduated school. I was so happy to be out of college, but of course I immediately went back to grad school at night in engineering administration and project management.
MGAC: Ha, of course.
MA: And oddly, I have a paper here on my shelf that’s called “the effects of construction consultants on the building process,” or something like that, that predicts the growing rise of consultants in the construction industry. Which is kind of odd, thinking now that I wrote that in my mid-20s.
MGAC: Oh wow, it’s like you knew! Even back then.
MA: Yeah. So later, when I was trying to get out of that job, I started getting calls from past clients and former bosses, and they were calling with different opportunities. So I started commuting to New York, to the World Trade Center in the aftermath of the 1993 bombings, working on issues in the World Trade Center and trying to bring those buildings up to the late 20th century. And at the same time, I got a phone call from Discovery Channel asking if I’d interview for the coolest, grooviest project they had going on in Washington, DC. And I remember interviewing with Discovery Channel—we didn’t even have a business card, we had nothing—and I went home that weekend thinking, ‘There’s just no possible way this is going to happen.’ But they called me that weekend and said, ‘Well, we interviewed you guys, and we interviewed Walt Disney Company.’ And I just thought to myself, ‘Well, okay. It’s all done now.’
MGAC: Yeah! Tough competition.
MA: Yeah. But then they said, ‘We like you both for different reasons. So we’d like you to go to dinner with them next week and figure out how you can work together on this thing.’
MGAC: So that was the game changer moment.
MGAC: That’s a really great segue. How do you try to take care of and have a lasting impact on your employees? What motivates them?
MA: Well, we’ve created at least ten if not a dozen millionaires in our profit-sharing program for people who have been with us a long time and have really just grown up with the company. Longevity with the firm is a path to financial security. I can’t think of another company that has a profit-sharing program as generous as ours. I think that makes a big difference.
MGAC: Right, absolutely. That’s life changing.
MA: It is. But at the same time, money isn’t everything. It’s all about working with really smart people and being challenged all the time by really great clients and really great projects.
MGAC: What are some of those really great projects you’ve worked on over the years that made a big impact on you and MGAC? Projects that impacted the trajectory of the company?
MA: Ha! There’s been a lot. Certainly the work we did at the local NBA / NHL arena in the mid-90s was a game changer in terms of growing the company. That was huge. Similarly, I think branching out and doing geographically diverse projects. By 2000, we were doing projects in the UK and Europe. And that really set us apart. And of course, there were big, key projects along the way that touched off entire market verticals.
MGAC: I’ve heard through the grapevine that you’ve recently become very interested in conscious capitalism.
MA: Oh, yeah.
MGAC: I’m interested to hear your thoughts on that.
MA: The basics and tenants of conscious capitalism are things that we’ve always practiced. So I don’t want to say the world is coming to see things our way, but maybe the world is coming closer to seeing things the way we do.
MGAC: So, in a way, you’ve always kind of practiced this.
MA: Oh, yeah. Businesses can’t just be all about the shareholders. It has to be about all the stakeholders in the organization, including communities, employees, and shareholders. Which is a major departure from what has been the chiseled-in-stone mantra of business for the last forty years.
MGAC: Yeah, it’s a major shift.
MA: It has to take into account communities, colleagues, and our clients. And I say it’s really four legs of a table, the last leg being the company. In no particular order. I don’t think businesses that neglect any one of those are being as good of a business as they can be. So we have to be aware of and work towards an ideal balance of company, community, colleagues, and clients. Does that make sense?
MGAC: Makes total sense. I like that. So through that lens of conscious capitalism, what are you hoping MGAC’s lasting impact will be? Based on those four C’s, it has to go beyond just your day-to-day work, right? How are you currently forging what you hope to be your future legacy?
MA: Our business changes lives in many different ways. We have a great impact on a lot of what our clients do, whether it’s a business goal or a personal desire. We’ve built some iconic things. So that’s certainly something people remember.
MA: But, we’ve also had employees who have gone through extraordinarily difficult personal circumstances. You know, the death of family members. Sickness, things like that. And I think we take care of those employees. We take care of those families. We create lasting financial security for an awful lot of people. So that’s a lasting legacy.
MGAC: You create a lasting impact on your people.
MA: Right. And when I look at our community involvement, whether it’s building playgrounds in underprivileged neighborhoods… I mean, MGAC has put, I can’t even tell you how many kids through college who otherwise wouldn’t have gone on scholarship. That creates a lasting impact.
MGAC: That’s amazing. So what gives you energy? What makes you get out of bed in the morning?
MA: I could be flippant and say my alarm clock.
MGAC: Well, that’s honest.
MA: The alarm clock hits between 4:15AM and 5:00AM, and then I’m in the gym.
MGAC: Wow, early riser.
MA: That’s a big part of staying busy, to me, is the mental health that the gym and exercise creates.
MGAC: That’s great.
MA: I also tend to be a deal junkie, so I always want to see the win. But more recently, those wins are less project-based and more company-based, as the nature of what I do has changed. So that means working to geographically expand offices. Finding the best talent and keeping people working in the company and being motivated, that’s a big thing. We have some special people working in this company.
MGAC: What is it about your people that makes them so uniquely special?
MA: I think getting hired at MGAC is largely more selective than getting into Harvard. We work very hard to be the employer of choice, but we are also very careful with who we hire. We really look for the rockstars.
MGAC: Are there certain qualities you always look for when you hire? Certain things that bind all MGAC employees together?
MA: No, not really. Our diversity is our strength.
Okay, now some rapid-fire questions.
MGAC: Name a book that changed your life.
MA: Tough one. Most of what I read is pulp fiction… not the movie, just crap novels. Okay, I do frequently quote “The World is Flat” by Tom Friedman. He got a lot right, but unfortunately a lot of what he predicted as risk has come to pass as well.
MGAC: What about a quote that inspires you?
MA: “Success is never final” by Churchill. Or, “We are masters of the unspoken word and slaves to the ones that slip out,” also Churchill.
MGAC: Describe your job in five words or less.
MA: People make the world turn.
MGAC: What’s the first thing you do at work every day?
MA: Try to say hello to Gia! Then black coffee, no sugar.
MGAC: What’s the last thing?
MA: Encourage Bruce Bieber to leave at a reasonable hour.
MGAC: What’s the strangest thing we might find in your desk or work bag?
MA: A piece of a scrapped 767 I once flew on, with my name on it. American Airlines mailed it to me. Kind of cool.
MGAC: What don’t you leave the house without?
MA: Hmm, I would say clothing, but that might not be 100% true. I usually wear a watch.